International Mobility: How Can International Psychologists Become Licensed to Practice in the US or Canada?

The National Register of Health Service Providers in Psychology outlines the state and territorial procedures for licensure and credentialing in the US and Canada.

By Judy E. Hall, PhD

In the United States and in Canada, regulation of the practice of psychology and identification of psychologists are the purview of the individual states, territories and provinces. Each jurisdiction sets its own education and training standards for entrance to the examination. Many jurisdictions examine applicants using tools that are specific to the state or province, such as a jurisprudence or oral exam, and monitor ethical standards through an individual conduct code. However, those same jurisdictions also use the national examination (Examination for Professional Practice in Psychology), and most have adopted the American Psychological Association or Canadian Psychological Association code of ethics.

Unlike other countries, there is no national license or universally adopted national standards. While there is increasing consensus on national standards in the US and Canada, there remains variation in statute and rules or regulations. An applicant could meet the standards for licensure in one jurisdiction but might not qualify in another jurisdiction. Although there has been progress in promoting mobility across jurisdictional lines, internationally trained psychologists applying for licensure in the US and Canada should carefully select the jurisdiction for the first license application as one in which he/she is likely to the meet the standard. Then, once licensed, there are ways to enhance mobility to other jurisdictions within the US and Canada. See the resources for contact information on US and Canadian licensure boards, and see Global Promise: Quality Assurance and Accountability in Professional Psychology for “The Promotion of International Mobility” by Bullock and Hall.

One major difference between the education and training required in other countries and the US and Canada is that the doctoral degree is the common standard for practicing as a psychologist. There are few exceptions: Vermont and West Virginia are jurisdictions in which a master’s degree in psychology permits one to practice independently in the US. The same applies to Alberta and Newfoundland in Canada. Aside from these examples, the most significant barrier to licensure for psychologists trained outside the US or Canada is whether they completed a doctoral degree in psychology and whether that degree is equivalent to that required in the US or Canada. Having only a master’s degree restricts the opportunities for independent practice to just four states/ provinces. In other jurisdictions the applicant may qualify to practice under supervision of a licensed psychologist but without the title of psychologist (psychological assistant, etc.)

Doctoral Licensure Qualifications

Because of the difficulty in understanding the education system in other countries in the world, US and Canadian licensure boards often use outside resources to evaluate foreign degrees. The number of applicants is small, so those licensure boards often refer to evaluation services for interpretation.

The assessment of equivalent education typically requires that the applicant submits a completed application for a license, pays a required fee and submits copies of transcripts from their educational institution, accompanied by a valid translation (if needed) and information on the degree granting institution. The education in many countries requires an undergraduate degree in psychology so that transcript must also be submitted in addition to the transcript documenting advanced education resulting in a master’s degree and/or doctoral degree.

Independent Evaluation of Your Degree in Psychology for Licensing Boards

The question for most applicants for licensure is: Does your education meet the ASPPB/National Register Designation Guidelines for Defining a “Doctoral Degree in Psychology?”.

Based upon a request in 1997 by the Maryland State Board of Examiners in Psychology, the National Register of Health Service Providers in Psychology (National Register) began evaluating foreign psychology degrees for US state boards and Canadian regulatory bodies to determine if licensure applicants’ education met US/Canadian guidelines. Once the review process is complete, the National Register reports the results of its review to the licensing board and specifies which criteria were met and whether supplemental coursework is necessary, depending upon the regulations in that jurisdiction. Often, applicants may need to take additional coursework, such as semester hours in the scientific foundation of psychology or in ethics (Criterion 10 of the “Guidelines”).

There are also a number of more generic credential evaluation services that review foreign transcripts. However, the National Register is the only evaluation service that specializes in psychology. The National Register’s educational review not only compares the sequence of education and training to a US/Canadian degree, but also determines whether the program, faculty, and curriculum satisfy the Guidelines for Defining a “Doctoral Degree in Psychology.”  These criteria were developed in 1976-77 and were jointly approved by the National Register and ASPPB in 1979.

Two US licensing boards (Pennsylvania and Maryland) currently require evaluation by the National Register for foreign-trained applicants. Eight more licensing boards currently use the National Register as a resource to evaluate degrees in psychology (Canada: British Columbia, US: District of Columbia, Hawaii, Iowa, Maine, Montana, Oregon, and Washington). Other boards refer foreign-trained psychologists to the National Register whenever they receive application inquiries.

Credentials From the National Register

Once licensed as a psychologist by a US or Canadian jurisdiction, individuals may also apply for credentialing as a Health Service Provider in Psychology. In addition to holding a license, this certification has additional requirements as indicated online.  Please visit the National Register to learn more about the National Register’s mission and credentialing benefits, including credentials banking and expedited licensure mobility.


1. US and Canadian licensing board websites
2. Global Promise: Quality Assurance and Accountability in Professional Psychology (2008), Oxford University Press. Edited by Judy E. Hall, PhD and Elizabeth Altmaier, PhD.